Contents / Layout of this Review:
# Conclusions from the tasting:
# Photo: the seven wines rating gold-medal level
# Background to a Ch de Beaucastel tasting ... and the brett factor:
# Ch de Beaucastel – some details:
# Photo: part of the de Beaucastel vineyard … the famous galets
# Table 1: Cepage for vintages tasted:
# The original Invitation to share in the tasting:
# The thirteen wines reviewed:
# Photo: glass samples of the thirteen wines.
Conclusions from the tasting:
The formal 'public' tasting in Wellington covered 12 vintages of Ch de Beaucastel, 1983 – 2015. I was able to add the 2016 at the writing-up stage. Given Ch de Beaucastel's traditional reputation in the New World as one of the more rustic chateauneufs, it would be fair to say that the nett impression of participants in this Library Tasting was one either of relief, or surprise, that so few of the wines were seriously brett-affected. But, given that some of the wines did show brett, liberally-minded tasters then had to assess to what extent the wine was, in truth, impaired.
In this tasting, to careful examination eight of the 13 vintages of Ch de Beaucastel showed suggestions of brett complexity ranging from an academic trace to noticeable on bouquet, a couple more obviously so. Of the eight, most showed the more benign 4-EG phase of brett aromas dominant, that is, of much less concern. The nett view of the 21 tasters was, all the wines would be perfectly acceptable in a restaurant setting. And the best wines (including a couple with a low level of brett) were simply superlative, adding a near-burgundian quality and charm to their characteristic high-mourvedre slightly tanniny de Beaucastel style. All the post-2000 bottles were considered brett-free.
Two caveats to note in that assessment. The audience for this tasting was self-selecting for more liberal / tolerant tasters. Those who are narrow-minded about brett complexity in red wine stayed away, given the reputation of de Beaucastel in earlier years – say before 2000. Sadly, they lacked the interest in the subject to ascertain if there is now an improvement, since one third of the bottles were post-2000. Perhaps that approach goes with the territory. Secondly, when a wine is bottled unfiltered, no two bottles will end up the same, given decades, quite apart from the further variable of cork performance.
The goal with a wine showing some brett on bouquet is to ascertain the kind of brett chemistry: is the more agricultural / pharmaceutical / less pleasant 4-EP phase of brett aroma in the ascendant, or is it the more acceptable / benign / savoury / nutmeg spice / venison casserole 4-EG phase ? Then to double-check, one must examine the aftertaste critically: is there any hint of the dreaded fusty / mouse-cage character on the late, late aftertaste, bespeaking a much-too-wild yeast population (though this character may also be a decay-product of the 4-EP chemistry). If this character is found, then the wine must be downgraded / drunk with a meal in the next few months (if in one’s cellar), or even rejected if severe. Food covers a multitude of sins in wine, as the presenters of more commercial wine-tastings well know.
The tasting as a whole showed that there is far too much pseudo-science, ex-cathedra declamation, and single-factor / theoretical objection applied to the issue of brett in wine, particularly amongst the would-be wine cognoscenti and would-be wine technocrat brigades. To focus a little more clearly on the brett issue, and illuminate the brett aspect of a de Beaucastel tasting, and thus assist in assessing and writing up the wines after the tasting, I also opened a bottle of 1997 Domaine du Gramenon Cotes-du Rhone, a wine well known at that time for its brett component. A little more background to brett in wine can be found in my review of the 2007 Pinot Noir Conference, here (scroll down to the heading BRETTANOMYCES).
Another discovery of the tasting, with this rare opportunity to see a set of 13 de Beaucastel wines spanning 33 vintages, was the extent to which the high tannin load of youthful mourvedre attenuates with time. These furry tannins are highly suited to condensing on the wall of the bottle, the wine ‘crusting’. Thus, some of the wines, even in old age, showed beautiful sweet fruit on the late palate, giving the very best an almost burgundian quality. In a tanniny way, of course. The extent to which the wines appealed to the 21 tasters may be gauged from the fact that 11 of the 12 wines ranked as at least one taster’s favourite or second-favourite bottle.
But the more important fact to emerge from the tasting is to reveal the extent and pervasiveness of the absolute nonsense which has been written about brett character in de Beaucastel wines, and its supposed relationship to the grape mourvedre. Careless and unthinking wine-writers have been uncritically recycling each other’s myopic writings now for nearly two generations. Their thesis is along the lines that the high mourvedre content in Ch de Beaucastel is responsible for the rustic and gamey aromas which the wine sometimes showed last century. Wines such as the 2016 de Beaucastel, higher in mourvedre than usual, the 2015, the 2010, and the 2005, demonstrate to anybody with a critical palate, that mourvedre the grape smells solely of red grapes, yes, dark and tanniny grapes, but pure grapes nonetheless, when fermented and raised under tight technical control.
Their thinking has been the result of a totally spurious correlation, along the lines that because pre-2000, some vintages of de Beaucastel showed rustic and variously old-fashioned barnyard aromas often associated with the wild yeast Brettanomyces (correct), and because de Beaucastel is noteworthy for the unusually high percentage of mourvedre in its vineyards and wines (correct), that therefore mourvedre was responsible for the brett aroma in the wine, and that mourvedre characteristically smells of brett (100% wrong). The rustic character in earlier vintages of de Beaucastel was solely the result of faulty / overly traditional cellar practice, exacerbated by holding (nearly) all the wine in large foudres which are particularly hard to sterilise. Further detail in the text to follow. How much longer will unthinking authors continue to peddle this nonsense ?
All things considered, therefore, the tasting was a great success. It got off to a great start, by selling out within 60 min of announcement … unusual. Thanks to the generosity of one participant, I have been able to add 2016 de Beaucastel, not presented in the 12, into this review. Thirteen wines all told.
There were 12 wines in the formal tasting of Ch de Beaucastel, 1983 – 2015. The 2016 was added at the writing-up stage, and is included in the ranking. Judging these wines from the standpoint of a person who first seeks virtues in wine, rather than from the wine-snob viewpoint of striving to find faults, seven of the thirteen could be judged as gold-medal level. From the left, 1985 the surprise of the tasting, still lovely balance and noticeable fruit sweetness, grenache dominant now, an academic level of benign brett, 18.5; the 2005, still too young and tanniny, mourvedre totally dominant, needing time to soften and sweeten, no brett, 18.5 +; then its running-mate, the 2015 quite the opposite, all lush dark berry, syrah and grenache on bouquet, some mourvedre backbone on palate, soft already though a long future, no brett, 19; the 1989, Wine Spectator’s ‘Wine of the Year’ 1991, Jancis Robinson's (2015) ‘Rather glorious.’, totally silky and burgundian in bouquet and texture, seemingly all grenache, some benign brett, very beautiful, 19; the 2001, textbook garrigue florals / aromatics, grenache and syrah dominant, heading for a similar style to the 1989, supple, no brett, 19 +; then the interloper, 2016, darkly aromatic and mourvedre to the fore, great potential, 19 +; and the 2010, the most concentrated of them all (except the Jacques Perrin Hommage, not in the top half), mourvedre still dominant now, a sensational wine for the aeons, 19.5. Ch de Beaucastel changed from the handsome embossed dead-leaf green generic Chateauneuf-du-Pape bottle to their own shield on a darker, heavier bottle in 1996. Font>
Background to a Ch de Beaucastel tasting ... and the brett factor:
Ch de Beaucastel certainly enjoys both a great reputation, and a greater diversity of opinion about the wine, than some other famous wines. A few people of varied persuasions have decided that the wine has traditionally been too rustic / old-fashioned in its winemaking, and is not for them. Rather many of these people have overlooked the fact that time moves on, wineries evolve, and the wine may have changed. For those who are more accepting of the wine, and its variations over the last 40 years, it is quite fun reading the various accounts of it in print and on-line, and for those who acknowledge its at times rustic character, reading the various excuses they make for it.
Thirty years ago, nobody had heard of Brettanomyces / the brett factor in wine. Since then, the subject has become a matter of the moment, but only in countries where wine technologists are influential, and there is an active wine-review literature as well. In that time, for Ch de Beaucastel, there have basically been three groups of commentators. There are those who acknowledge there has been in some years a brett complexity factor, but appreciate the wine all the same, because notwithstanding, it ages wonderfully well, and is so successful at table. The fact that (mostly) it does age so well in bottle indicates the brett level is more of academic than real concern. Then there are the illiberal purists and would-be technocrats, invariably from the New World who, forgetting that every individual has a different sensory threshold, affect the belief that any wine with detectable brett is undrinkable. The notion that a little brett may be magical complexity is anathema to these people. Happily, they are a very small minority. And finally there is the great majority of wine people, who are unconcerned about the details. They simply love the variations in vinosity and even umami-like complexity the wine may show, and the wonderful way that its aroma and supple palate accompany all kinds of savoury and main course foods. This third group includes in effect the entire population of Europe, and many other countries not in the thrall of wine technologists. That they are by far in the majority is confirmed by wine-searcher, where the allegedly more bretty vintages of de Beaucastel are not penalised in the slightest by the market-place.
As somebody wise said so many centuries ago: de gustibus non disputandum est. But times have changed, as has the wine … so to the wine itself.
Ch de Beaucastel – some details:
The de Beaucastel estate covers c.130 ha, with c.70 ha within Chateauneuf-du-Pape strictly. Not all of the latter is planted. It is in a zone absolutely characterised by the famous cobble-fields (the galets) of the district, as shown in this photo of part of the de Beaucastel vineyard:
The location of de Beaucastel is said to be a little cooler than parts of the appellation. All 13 (at least, some recognise more variants) traditional varieties of the AOC district are grown, with an increasing tendency for inter-planting of minor white varieties amongst the reds, to facilitate a field blend. Viticulture is organic, the initial moves in that direction dating from 1950. The vineyard was certified organic in 2000. Likewise the move towards biodynamic viticulture dates from 1974. Average vine age is around 50 years, some of the grenache dating back to the 1920s. The late Jacques Perrin is responsible for the distinctive move towards mourvedre, starting in the 1940s. Vineyard ratios of the grapes are now along the lines: grenache 30%, mourvedre 30, syrah 10, counoise 10 and increasing, cinsault 5, other red varieties 8, and white varieties 7. The grand vin approximates to those figures.
Table 1: Cepage for vintages tasted: Though the de Beaucastel website is admirably detailed in other respects, and particularly for the back vintages, the Indicative annual cepage given for the main wine (not Hommage) suggests a cursory approach, more reflecting the vineyard ratios than the performance of the grapes in each vintage. Of the years tasted, only the 2016 differs, on the website. Accordingly, where wine-writers have on visits gleaned a different figure in discussion with the winemakers, that is substituted (if the other text is convincing – careful reading of their notes shows that other wine-writers make slips too), and indicated by brackets:
1 the other AOC-authorised red and white varieties: Red: vaccarese, terret noir, muscardin;
White: clairette, picpoul, picardan, bourboulenc, roussanne.
Hommage, the Grande Cuvée introduced in 1989 to honour Jacques Perrin, is strictly from old-vine material, mourvedre 60 – 70%, grenache 10 – 20, syrah 10, counoise 10. For both cuvées, all harvesting is by hand, with a cropping rate which varies from low to very low. The average is approx 3.3 – 3.9 t/ha = 1.3 – 1.6 t/ac, but in some years and for Hommage less.
Apart from a little syrah sometimes, the entire crop is destemmed. Some of the must components, mainly the oxidation-prone grenache, is in some years subjected to the distinctive-to-Beaucastel / Perrin 'flash’-heating technique, whereby its temperature is raised to 80° C for 60 to less than 120 seconds, and reduced as quickly as possible back to ambient. In some seasons this is not practised at all … the rationale is not spelt out anywhere, but presumably aligns with quality of season, and crop health. The goal is to inactivate the polyphenol oxidase enzymes, and thus retain better colour, and also assist extraction by softening cell walls. The technique was developed in Burgundy in the early years of last century: it has been practised at Beaucastel since the early 1960s. Note that this is a pre-fermentation technique, and is totally different in role and effect from ‘pasteurisation’ of the wine.
The approach to fermentation is thoughtful, the reduction-prone syrah and mourvedre being fermented in wood, and the remainder in enamel-lined cement, or stainless steel. Whether there is cold-soaking, and length of cuvaison, is obscure … every report is different. Cuvaison seems to be between 15 and 21 days. The main varieties are kept separate through fermentation and elevation, with blending later, though the ‘field-blend’ approach cuts across that. Again, reports vary.
Most of the wine is raised in large oak, foudres of 5,000 to 6,500 litres capacity, now 5% new. As the winery website says: Oak aging is not dominant here, the authenticity of the grape varieties and terroir take the major roles. Francois Perrin is also on record as saying: Oak is like make-up, you just need a little. Some of the syrah is in relatively small wood, and even a little in new barrels. Time in foudre varies from 8 – 18 months, depending on vintage, but is typically 12 months. For the Grande Cuvée Hommage à Jacques Perrin, this wine does have a little more oak, 12 – 18 months in demi-muids (Rhone 600-litre barrels, vs puncheons usually 500-litre), generally second-use. At the bottling stage, since 1980, all the wine of one vintage is assembled into one vessel, egg-white fined, and bottled unfiltered in one batch. Ch de Beaucastel holds the wine for at least a year from bottling to release, believing that bottling upsets the wine considerably.
Clearly management of the large wood is the nub of the complexity issue, commented on over the years. It is a little ironic that having early gone to some lengths in 1980 to ensure uniformity of the finished wine by bottling all at the one time, nonetheless by bottling it unfiltered, and if there is a residual mixed yeast population, ultimately no two bottles will be exactly the same. In 1997 the winery commenced a five-year research programme with consultant oenologist Dr Pascal Chatonnet of Bordeaux, to tackle the issue. Both steam sterilisation of the foudres, and a policy of replacing three of the 60 foudres each year was initiated. Thus in the elapsed time since the brett issue started to be talked about (Robert Parker, in the 1990s), much more attention is now paid to foudre (and barrel) hygiene. To illustrate that, Livingstone-Learmonth in his introduction to the winery makes the comment: The content is more fleshy and redondo than it used to be in the 1990s-2000s, the ***** 2016 Beaucastel red a good example of that. Whether foudre replacement will continue at the end of the initial 20-year replacement cycle is unclear, oak not being a desired part of the wine’s sensory profile.
Production of the grand vin is of the order of 15,000 – 24,000 x 9-litre cases (varying with the year), and for the rare Hommage wine, made only in selected years, 300 – 400 x 9-litre cases.
The original Invitation to share in the tasting:
Ch de Beaucastel is arguably the best-known Chateauneuf-du-Pape in New Zealand. Ch Rayas is more famous overseas, but many times the price, and rarely seen here.
Loosely speaking, Beaucastel has been in the Perrin family since 1909. Unlike Ch Rayas, which is 100% grenache, de Beaucastel is famous for growing all 13 varieties traditionally permitted in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC, and using them. The winery is also famous for being the first in the district to introduce domaine-bottling for their grand vin, in 1970. Likewise they were pioneers in the movement to organic and biodynamic viticulture, the latter starting 1974.
The winery is also well-known for using a much higher percentage of mourvedre than virtually any other AOC winery. This has led to one of the longest-standing misunderstandings amongst wine-lovers at all levels, including in reference books, that the grape mourvedre produces aromas reminiscent of the wild yeast Brettanomyces. This is absolute nonsense, but still ‘gospel’ – for example, Karis, 2009: The high Mourvedre content accounts for Beaucastel's typical leathery "barnyard" bouquet. Yes, the earlier years of Ch de Beaucastel often have rustic notes about the aroma, but that was solely due to the large-wood practice in the winery, not to the high percentage of mourvedre. Mourvedre when correctly vinified is darkly berried, tanniny, but absolutely free of the characteristic leathery / savoury / bacony notes by which brett is identified.
In this tasting, corks willing, we will have 12 vintages of Ch de Beaucastel ranging from 1983 to 2015, surely a first in New Zealand. The vintages are: 2015, 2010, 2005, 2001, 1998, 1995, the rare 1995 Hommage a Jacques Perrin, 1994, 1990, 1989, 1985, 1983 … all good to very good vintages in the district, note. In Reserve: 1997, 1988, 1986.
The tasting will include the 1989, arguably the most famous vintage in the last half-century, which Wine Spectator made their “Wine of the Year” in 1991, James Suckling making the curious comment: ‘Perhaps the greatest Beaucastel ever produced. Has the class and structure of a great vintage of Mouton-Rothschild’. Even the under-stated Jancis Robinson describes the 1989 as ‘Rather glorious’. For this vintage alone, please note I have taken out two bottles, so you will be pretty well guaranteed to taste it.
This should be a benchmark tasting. Taste 12 vintages of Ch de Beaucastel for roughly two-thirds the cost of a single bottle of the current vintage. So join us and see if a nett impression of real vinosity and wine complexity in these reds can overcome what some see as technical failings in one or other of them.
I particularly appreciated discussion with Con Anastasiou, a keen Wellington wine-man, on the brett question. That is not to say he agrees with my conclusions. And Eugene d’Eon kindly made available a tasting sample of the 2016 vintage, thus adding greatly to the utility of this review.
Broadbent, Michael 2003: Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages. Mitchell Beazley, 223 p.
Karis, H, 2009: The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book. Kavino. 488 p.
Lawther, James MW, 2006: Pierre Perrin – Decanter interview. www.decanter.com
Norman, Remington, 1995: Rhone Renaissance. Mitchell-Beazley. 336 p.
Parker, Robert, 1987: Wines of the Rhone Valley and Provence. Simon & Schuster, New York, 456 p.
Parker, Robert, 1997: Wines of the Rhone Valley. Simon & Schuster, 685 p.
ww.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth, subscription needed for reviews
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW, subscription needed for reviews
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker and Joe Czerwinski, vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
THE WINES REVIEWED:
The first price given is the current wine-searcher value, expressed in $NZ. An approximate indication of the original New Zealand purchase price is in the text following, if clues are available. The wines have been cellared in Wellington since original purchase. An outline of the Reserve wines is included, at foot.
The twelve wines of the tasting set out 1 – 12 in their two rows, plus the 2016 in the centre, not part of the formal presentation, added subsequently at the writing-up stage. And to keep the wines company, a galet from the vineyard. The first impression was one of delight at the colours. One thinks of de Beaucastel as being a substantial wine, but even the two deepest wines, the 2010 at position 12, and the 2016 in the centre, had a delightful translucency to them. In this image, the 2015 at position two looks deeper still. Wine one is the excellent 2001, looking just perfect at 20 years of age exactly, redolent of Southern Rhone Valley garrigue florals and aromatics. Wine seven, the magnificent 1989, is a little older and lighter. Note the surprisingly fresh hue of the 1985, in position five. The high percentage of mourvedre in de Beaucastel really helps the wines maintain their colour. Though the lightest wine, even the 1983 in glass nine still shows an attractive weight of mature colour, at 38 years age. Wine 10 is the surprisingly dark 1995, and alongside it 1995 Hommage, still youthful in a sense, with its high mourvedre. The smells wafting up from these glasses were a delight … the nett impression one of great vinosity, mouth-watering. And all of them stood well too: none collapsing in the glass. Font>
Ruby and velvet, a similar weight to the 2016 but fractionally older, marginally the deepest wine, but much, much lighter than the Penfolds last month. Total wine style is very close to the 2016, the wine pure and lightly aromatic, again the role of mourvedre apparent and reminding of cabernet sauvignon, but the whole wine smelling just a little richer. It is also a little drier / more tanniny, without quite the fresh berry bloom of the youthful 2016. There is a hint of beguiling garrigue, though. Palate is richer and more concentrated than the 2016, the richest in the set apart from the ultra-low cropping rate Hommage à Jacques Perrin, clearly aromatic, the dark mourvedre even more apparent, dark plum and nearly cassis flavours, with wonderful palate depth on the furry-tannins / berry flavours of the mourvedre component. Again the alcohol is very well hidden. I imagine this will take years to crust in bottle, leaving a fragrant soft wine like 1989 now, but pure. Four tasters rated the 2010 their favourite wine of the evening, and another four their second-favourite. Tasters were unanimous there was no brett. Magnificent wine, to cellar 20 – 45 years. GK 05/21
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, the freshest and second-deepest, but neither heavy nor unduly deep, a lovely colour. Bouquet has dark berry freshness and wineyness to it, mourvedre dominant now, all absolutely pure, with trace garrigue aromatics. Compared with the 2015, there is a greater firmness and aromatic quality to the wine, the mourvedre component hinting at cabernet sauvignon as in a bordeaux blend, dark berries dominant over red, almost a hint of elderberry. Palate likewise reveals dark berries more noticeable than the red / raspberry / cinnamon-styled grenache, perfect fresh acid balance, appreciable dry extract, very subtle oak just detectable on the bouquet, and then again on the later palate, where it is hard to separate from the tannins of the mourvedre. The alcohol is amazingly well hidden. The nett balance is such that in 20 years, you feel this wine will show a near-burgundian quality, such as the 2001 and 1989 show now. The tasting group did not assess this wine, so no collective view. No hint of brett. Such perfect balance will cellar for many years, though it is not a dramatically big wine. Cellar for 15 – 40 years. GK 05/21
Ruby and garnet, some velvet, clearly older, exactly in the middle for depth. I placed this wine in position one for the tasting, to highlight to tasters the wonderful near-floral / aromatic garrigue quality (lavender, rosemary, thyme) some of the best Southern Rhone Valley wines show. Bouquet has a gentleness and potential complexity to it which will in time remind of an aromatic Cote de Nuits wine, certain Clos de la Roche bottlings for example. Both in bouquet and palate, you feel grenache and syrah dominate this year, the mourvedre very much in the background. No alcohol thoughts arise at all. Total palate weight is less than the 2010 or 2015, red fruits browning now, with beautiful harmony and wine-maturity already showing. One taster ranked the wine their favourite, and two their second-favourite, all agreeing there was no brett. A lovely wine eminently approachable now, but will hold gracefully for 10 – 15 years, maybe longer. GK 05/21
Ruby and more garnet than the 2001, a glowing mature burgundy colour, fresher than the 1990, the second lightest in depth. Bouquet is magical, total vinosity, a perfect illustration of a Southern Rhone Valley wine showing mature, lightly spicy, berryfruit with grenache and syrah dominant. There is some floral garigue complexity, and ‘sweet’ benign brett, with nutmeg and veal casserole (including bouquet garni) aromas, even a suggestion of umami. Palate is rich, soft, silky, superb balance of mature fruit to invisible oak, gentle acid balance, a wine absolutely burgundian in its beauty ... and crying out for a superb main-course. This is Chateauneuf-du-Pape at its subtlest and finest: soft, fragrant, round and velvety. Leaving aside the Mouton analogy, how correct and perceptive Wine Spectator was, all those years ago. Anybody who rejects this wine on a detectable brett factor simply does not like red wine very much / does not know about the joys of red wine with complex meat dishes / has their priorities totally wrong. Top wine for three tasters, and second favourite for one. Eight tasters detected brett, and four thought it excessive. Exquisite and perfectly mature now at 32 years, but will hold for 5 – 8 years more, the aftertaste pure. As with all wines showing brett, other bottles may be lesser. GK 05/21
Ruby, carmine and velvet, scarcely distinguishable from the 2016, the third deepest, again not a big or heavy wine. In a subtle way, the bouquet is quite different from the 2016 and the 2010, there being a dark plums-in-the-sun highly berried and richly fruity quality to the wine which is softer than the mourvedre-dominated other two young wines. Palate quality is simply velvety, almost plush fruit yet with a backbone of mourvedre tannin adding interest, great length of flavour, alcohol just noticeable, the oak handling subtle and superb. To my surprise, no first places (perhaps because it was too early in the sequence), one second-favourite, then two least places, reasons not accounted for. Tasters agreed the wine was totally brett-free. Cellar 15 – 35 years. GK 05/21
Ruby and velvet, a little garnet creeping in, the fourth-deepest wine. While in theory you can't smell tannin, as opposed to oak resins etc, in simple / plain English the bouquet here smells tanniny as well as winey, suggesting high mourvedre, plus some oak apparent. There is quite an aromatic component, but it seems more oak than garrigue. Palate matches exactly with bouquet, dark tanniny berries with mourvedre totally dominating now, yet the tannins attractively furry, not harsh / spiky as so often seen in New World reds. Length of flavour is lovely, with near-cassisy and darkly plummy flavours dominant. The lighter raspberry / red fruits of grenache are quite invisible. This is a distinctive rendering of de Beaucastel. Jeb Dunnuck's assessment as 'high acidity' I suggest is wrong, just tannin. Again, no first-place ratings, one second-place, and two least. Total agreement that there is no brett. This is very much a de Beaucastel to cellar, for as Harry Waugh so often said, there is ‘tannin to lose’. It will surprise doubters in 20 years. The 2015 and 2005 make an interesting and complementary study pair, in their contrasting tannin styles. Cellar 15 – 40 years, since thankfully de Beaucastel had reverted to 54/55 mm corks by 2005. GK 05/21
Garnet and ruby, still a surprising rosy flush to its hue, much younger than the 1983, a little below midway in depth. In one sense this was the surprise of the tasting, the wine showing delightful vigour and relative fruit. The bouquet is now grenache-dominant, red fruits browning now, a little cinnamon from which it is hard to tease out a trace of benign brett. Palate is surprisingly rich (for its age), round, still with remnants of furry mourvedre tannins, and then delight: still fruit sweetness to the finish, as well as tannin. Interesting, and superb with food. One person had the 1985 as their top wine, and three their second-favourite, but it was least for two. Six tasters registered brett, one thinking it excessive. A wine at attractive full maturity: bottles will vary. Nothing to be gained by keeping it for longer, though there is no great hurry. GK 05/21
Ruby and garnet, a lovely maturing red colour, just below midway in depth. The bouquet is a little different in this one, being totally red fruits / grenache-dominated, raspberry browning now, a hint of raisins as if a sunny year, and trace spicy 4-EG brett notes hopelessly entwined with the cinnamon of mature grenache, so it is hard to tell which is which. You therefore make a note to assess the aftertaste more carefully than for most. Palate is entirely simpatico with the bouquet, seemingly a wine not quite as rich as some, yet the ratio of berry to tannins lovely, furry cinnamon flavours dominating, darker mourvedre and oak tannins scarcely visible. A wine at an harmonious point of perfect maturity, yet the balance and fruit sweetness are so good it will hold. Top wine for one taster, second favourite for another, least wine for three. Eight noted a little brett, none thought it excessive – which the aftertaste confirms. Those who had had 1998 de Beaucastel before thought this a particularly happy bottle. Cellar 5 – 10 years. GK 05/21
Garnet and ruby, older and fractionally lighter than the 1995 standard wine, due to the elevage in relatively smaller oak, above midway in depth. This is a hard wine to evaluate. The high percentage of mourvedre gives the wine a distinctive dark berries / aromatic / tanniny smell, but it is complicated by some brett complexity as well. So the nett result is a big nearly-leathery but also spicy darkly-fruited wine, old school. On palate you end up feeling there is as much brett as the standard 1995, but the remarkable berry richness is covering it up surprisingly well, so it is much less apparent. The dark berry flavours are long and amazingly persistent in a positive way: this wine must have remarkable dry extract. Though there is relatively newer oak here, it serves largely to sweeten the nett impression, not dominating the flavour. One person rated Hommage their top wine, one their second-favourite, and three their least wine. Five thought it showed some brett, none thinking it excessive. Cellar 5 – 20 years, but again, every bottle will be different, and there is a risk some will deteriorate faster than others. Cellar temperature is critical, in this regard. GK 05/21
Garnet and ruby, surprisingly looking older than the 1985, in the lightest three. This was the first of the (original tasting) line-up to show some recognisable brett character, but all in the benign nutmeg / savoury beef casserole phase. Grenache is dominant, red fruits browning now, quite a big and attractively winey bouquet, hints of garrigue. Flavour is different from the others, the only wine to have noticeable acid from a somewhat cooler year, and the tannins from both mourvedre and cooperage are therefore relatively a little more noticeable – due to the synergy between acid and tannin. Otherwise the balance is reasonably good, and the wine is certainly food-friendly. Tasters were less tolerant of this wine than I was, the only one of the 12 to record no first- or second-favourite places, and four least places. Eleven of the group noticed brett, and two thought it excessive. Best to say the wine is fully mature, and ageing more rapidly than most: there is not much likelihood of fruit sweetness here, as the tannins condense. Drink in the next 5 – 8 years. GK 05/21
Garnet and ruby, a lovely old wine colour, the lightest wine. Bouquet is subtle on this wine, the first to give the impression on bouquet it is running out of fruit. The light mature fruit notes are matched by gentle slightly leathery and spicy brett qualities. Palate confirms the age factor, the level of fruit the least in the 12 (or 13), but acid and tannin are pretty well in balance with the fruit, and the wine is harmonious with food. Against the light fruit, the brett factor is a little more noticeable, the wine also showing light 4-EP horsey / leathery qualities as well as the more pleasant 4-EG nutmeg and savoury notes. But again, though no first places, five tasters rated the 1983 their second favourite, and none least. You never can tell, with brett ‘appreciation’. Ten noted brett, with one saying excessive. On this showing, 1983 de Beaucastel should be finished up: there is nothing to gain by keeping it, and at this stage there is always the risk of lesser bottles, as the fruit fades and the brett stays stable or even increases. GK 05/21
Ruby and garnet, fresher and fractionally deeper than the 1995 Hommage, above midway in depth. This is another of the years that as soon as you pick it up, yes – older-style Beaucastel, noticeable leathery brett. Behind the nutmeg and savoury casserole and entwined bouquet garni notes, there are red berries browning now, cinnamon, and tanniny notes of the darker mourvedre. Palate is surprisingly youthful (for the colour), quite rich, the furry tannins of mourvedre noticeable, or even prominent if one disliked tannin. Oak is subtle. But yes, brett ‘complexity’ is noticeable again on the aftertaste, even including some less desirable 4-EP horsey / medicinal hints. If you are not a bit tolerant about brett, this is one in the sequence that you might object more strongly to. As is so often the case with wines like this, and the narrow-minded need to note this, in any group of wine-people not specifically tutored to be ‘down’ on brett, five people rated this 1995 their top wine, and another three their second-favourite. Least wine for two. Eleven people noted brett, but none saw it as excessive, partly because the wine is still relatively rich. Cellar 5 – 10 years, but each bottle will be different. GK 05/21
Garnet and ruby, deeper but older than the 1989, below midway in depth. This wine shows a greater volume of bouquet than the 1989, more fruit, more oak, more complexity not all positive, and more age. Main impressions are grenache-led red fruits browning now, then complex spicy / savoury / leathery qualities: very much a ‘classic’ old-style de Beaucastel. On palate one immediately finds one has the grape interpretation wrong, the first impression now being dry mourvedre tannins. Yet with further sipping, the nett mouthfeel is relatively round and harmonious, in a furry-tannins way. The savoury / leathery brett qualities become more apparent on the mid- and late palate, yet are reasonably well carried by the browning berry richness. You suspect there is a little 4-EP / more pharmaceutical complexity in there too, but it is hidden for now by the relative fruit richness (for its age). Long flavours are of savoury browning berry, and cinnamon / nutmeg. Again, this kind of wine has its appeal, particularly when imagined in a meal context: three first places, three second-places, no least places. Yet interestingly, there was near-total agreement: 19 (of 21) saying, yes the wine shows brett [ unusual to get this level of agreement on a brett issue ], with three thinking it excessive. Hard to assess cellar life: it is richer than the 1989, but also has more brett. Being a hotter year, it is also much more tannic. Maybe cellar 5 – 15 years, noting every bottle will be different, so there will be some disappointments now. GK 05/21
1997 Ch de Beaucastel
Southern Rhone Valley, France: 13.5%; $153 Cork; original price c.$66; cepage this year around Mv 35%, Gr 30%, Co 10, Sy 5, Ci 5, other red varieties 8, and white varieties 7; more info in Introduction; Wine Spectator Vintage Chart: Past peak, soft, easy, early-drinking wines, 81; J.L-L, 2013: .. has character, appeal, style. The palate is also floral, with burnt-tar, acrid edges ... tightly packed in its way, with raisin and chocolate-prune moments at the end. ... The finale is grainy, biscuity. It has gradually travelled past its summit, 2017-19, ***; RP@RP, 1999: … attractive aromatics consisting of black raspberries, cherries, licorice, floral, and herb scents. The wine is fruit-driven, with less structure than usual, but luscious cassis, licorice, and blackberries inundate the palate with no hard edges. A seductive, supple-textured, medium to full-bodied Beaucastel, this wine should drink well young, to 2015, 89 – 91; www.beaucastel.com
1988 Ch de Beaucastel
Southern Rhone Valley, France: 13%; $186 Cork; original price c.$46; cepage varies a little each year around Gr 30%, Mv 30, Sy 10, Co 10, Ci 5, other red varieties 8, and white varieties 7; more info in Introduction; Broadbent, 2003: ... rich wines with good levels of tannin and fruit, ****; J.L-L, 2018: NB, from jeroboam (3-litres) so much younger than a 750 would be: The bouquet is graceful, mixes dots of cedar with musky flowers, tender red stone fruits, spices. The palate is quietly giving all through, flows with kind waves of red fruits, a nudge of grain tannin alongside, 2017 – 2020, ****; JH@JR, 2010: Much more like the 1990 than like the 1989. Redolent of meat and undergrowth and leather though there is also a hint of something floral, possibly lavender. Herbal and gamey and definite smoky bacon character, 2003 – 2014, 17; RP@RP, 2003: ... firmly structured and elegant, with sweet, sweaty horse/old leather notes that may or may not be brett. Medium-bodied, earthy, firm, and vigorous, my instincts suggest it has reached full maturity, but I suspect it will always remain a firm, muscular example of Beaucastel without the charm, depth, and intensity of either the 1989 or 1990. In many ways it behaves along the lines of the 1995, 1995 – 2010, 89; www.beaucastel.com
1986 Ch de Beaucastel
Southern Rhone Valley, France: 13.5%; $131 Cork; original price c.$44; cepage varies a little each year around Gr 30%, Mv 30, Sy 10, Co 10, Ci 5, other red varieties 8, and white varieties 7; more info in Introduction; Broadbent, 2003: An uneven and difficult year ... some good, long-lasting tannic reds, ** – ****; J.L-L, 2005: As it airs and breathes, the fruits turn towards black berries, raisins and spices also, with tar and cinnamon. ... its powers on this showing are waning, to 2010, **; RP@RP, 1997: ... a muted aromatic profile (some dust, earth, and red fruits did finally emerge), and a tough, tannic, hard personality ... the wine is closed, tannic, and uninspiring. Although I disagree with them, the Perrin brothers believe the wine needs more time and will re-emerge from its current state of dormancy. Last tasted 12/95, 78; www.beaucastel.com